Private Harri Horsfall

Date of Birth c. 1897
Age at Death 17
Date of Death 29 April 1915
Service Number 1404
Military Service 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
Merton Address 47 Whitford Gardens, Mitcham
Local Memorial Mitcham War Memorial

Additional Information

Born in Nelson, Lancashire in 1897, Harri was the youngest son of John and Louisa Horsfall. The couple also had an older son, William and a younger daughter, Dorothy. Harri’s father, John, was a Commercial Traveller, trading in provisions. By 1912 the family was living in Barnes but moved to Whitford Gardens, Mitcham just before the First World War.

Sixteen year old Harri enlisted at London on 27 August 1914. He joined “Kitchener’s Army,” which was initially a volunteer force, formed in response to heavy losses amongst the regular army. Harri was one of 250,000 boys and young men who lied about their age in order to join up. At that time the legal age for armed service overseas was nineteen years but as most people did not have birth certificates, it was relatively easy for someone like Harri to lie about his age. Recruiting sergeants, teachers, M.Ps and even parents, were complicit in allowing underage boys into the army, often because they thought that fresh air and army food would benefit under-nourished youngsters.

At the start of the war, Harri was working as a clerk. He initially joined the infantry of the 6th Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) at Rochester in September 1914. His enlistment papers describe him as being 5 feet, 3.5 inches tall, weighing 112 lbs, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. He was stationed at Chatham until 28 December 1914 and was disciplined in November for failure to comply with orders and for selling his greatcoat which resulted in the loss of 10 day’s pay.

Harri was sent to the Front with the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment on 29 December 1914 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. He was stationed in Flanders until the following February, when he was sent back to England having suffered a hand grenade or a gun-shot wound to his chest. He recuperated in Britain, returning to Flanders on 21 April 1915. Tragically he was killed a week later on 29 April during the Second Battle of Ypres, which saw the first German use of poison gas on the Western Front.

Harri was just seventeen years old when he was killed in action. He is buried in the Wytschaete Military Cemetery, Belgium and his name also appears on the Mitcham War Memorial.

Harri’s brother, William, joined the Navy in 1911. He served on various ships including H. M.S. Excellent and was discharged in 1922. Other members of Harri’s family were still living at 43 Albert Road, Mitcham at that time. William died in 1971 at the age of 78.


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